The Kindle, Part I: Love Song

Although this is an alt-ac blog, my intent is not only to discuss academia but to make public its concerns: to share stuff that I’m interested in and that people might like to read. A piece of this will be paying close attention to scenes of reading and writing and their uses in our life. The field I’m in—English—is highly invested in these scenes, and mediating their uses in the academy and the life beyond is one of the things I really love to do. (Indeed, at one point our department chair told me I should develop a brand—like a marketing brand—for myself, and what came to mind was: I’m The Incredible Reading Woman. This is a parenthetical digression, but since this is an alt-ac blog, alt-acs and postacs who have received similar advice might want to know that I found good info at the grad site maintained at Tufts: https://sites.tufts.edu/gradmatters/2013/01/04/a-graduate-student-guide-to-developing-your-professional-profile-part-3-for-professional-careers-in-industry-nonprofits-and-other-fields/. Ok, end of helpful digression.)

Today’s post is on a particular e-book, the Kindle, and my love for it. Then I’ll move to the next installment, and describe how the bloom came to be off the rose.

Three years ago, I bought a Kindle. The purchase was an experiment, designed to see if I liked reading books electronically. My plan was: download a ton of books, read them, and take copious notes. This would eliminate the need for typing up the notes, I felt, because all would be electronic.

From the first, I simply loved my Kindle as a reading device. Never mind note-taking (which, as it turns out, is as time-consuming as typing notes outright).

I loved my Kindle with a love that was almost embarrassing. See, I’ve always thought of books as a kind of Big Bright Book of Light. Knowledge, companionship, fun, pleasure. A portal to enchanted realms. Well, the Kindle literalized the big-bright-book-of-light-ness.

A lot of the conversations around History of the Book (http://www.sharpweb.org) and digital humanities in our field center around the differences and continuities between old and new media. Much popular media makes these out to be entirely different—as if the Web made Everything New. But the conversation is much more interesting. It can be argued, for example, that the current scene displays a lot of continuities with earlier periods rather than abrupt difference. Think, for example, of how e-mail more resembles letter-writing in the 18th and 19th centuries than voice/telephone methods. We are back to frequently written missives.

Well, here’s another continuity: reading with Kindle reminded me of the kind of immanent spirituality early Protestant England saw in everyone reading their own bible. As I learned it, stained glass was replaced with clear glass, and windows became larger, because incoming light filtered through plain glass facilitated reading.

I saw e-books as combining reading with the same ease of movement one has in one’s mind. Suddenly, books were unencumbered by the need to carry them and pay attention to their relative heaviness. This was a considerable boon to me. First, I checked a helluva lot of books out of the library. And academic books—heck, any books in the aggregate–are often very heavy. Two, when I took vacations I was in the habit of packing and sending books or carrying a very heavy load as I traveled. The Kindle simply took care of that: wealth and ease all in one.

Part II soon!

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